Virgin Media correspondent launches High Court action over internal disciplinary process

Paul Byrne claims he was suspended after information he gave in a broadcast turned out to be inaccurate

Virgin Media journalist Paul Byrne has launched High Court proceedings over internal disciplinary proceedings brought against him by his employer.

Mr Byrne, the broadcaster’s southern correspondent, was suspended from his role following a live report he made on the afternoon of February 9th last concerning the death of a boy in Co Waterford.

He claims he was suspended after information he gave in the broadcast, which he claims was also carried by other media outlets, turned out to be inaccurate. At the time, he said, he believed the information to be credible.

He claims his employer informed him he was being suspended for allegedly breaching the broadcaster’s news guidelines and production handbook because he failed to speak to his line manager about the matter in advance of the broadcast.


The disciplinary process, he claims, could result in his dismissal for alleged gross misconduct.

He denies any wrongdoing and claims the process engaged by his employer is flawed, punitive, disproportionate and should be set aside. He also claims the process lacks credibility and is in breach of his contractual rights.

Mr Byrne is seeking a High Court injunction restraining Virgin Media Ireland Ltd and Virgin Media Television Limited from continuing the disciplinary process against him. He also seeks orders requiring the defendants to pay his salary and benefits, lift his suspension and refrain from appointing anyone to carry out his duties.

The court heard that in correspondence the defendants reject Mr Byrne’s claims against them and about the disciplinary process. The company said given its role as a public broadcaster it deems the alleged breach to be “serious in nature” and informed Mr Byrne “steps needed to be taken to avoid a repeat”.

Eoin Clifford SC, for Mr Byrne, told the court the disciplinary process commenced by the employer is “irredeemably flawed” and “should be set at nought”.

Counsel said that as part of his client’s broadcast on February 9th, Mr Byrne stated that one line of inquiry being considered by gardaí as part of the investigation into the child’s death was that the boy had allegedly been drowned and placed into a car.

His client had cited the allegation after checking it with at least two credible sources and after two other media outlets had published the same information. The information later turned out to be false, and Mr Byrne was later suspended on full pay from his job.

Counsel said his client is alleged to have broken the employer’s guidelines by not discussing the contents of the report with the news producer in advance of the broadcast. It is Mr Byrne’s case that the requirement to speak to the producer in advance is not mandatory, counsel said.

Mr Byrne has not broken any mandatory rule nor any contractual provision, counsel said.

During the investigation stage of the process, counsel said, his client wanted to bring a trade union representative, namely Damien Tiernan of the National Union of Journalists, with him to the investigation meeting. Under the defendants’ grievance and disciplinary procedures, counsel said Mr Byrne is allowed to be represented at such a meeting by a work colleague or a recognised trade union representative.

The employer refused to allow Mr Tiernan attend the meeting because he does not work for the defendants, counsel said.

Mr Byrne attended a meeting with his employer by himself, counsel said, and now contests the accuracy of the minutes of that meeting.

Mr Byrne had been invited to a disciplinary meeting, initially due to be held in Limerick on Wednesday, counsel said. The defendants had agreed to put that meeting back by another week, counsel said.

A medical report had been supplied to the defendants stating that Mr Byrne is not fit to attend that meeting. Counsel said his client was informed that if he was not present the meeting would proceed in his absence. The outcome of the meeting could have very serious consequences for Mr Byrne, counsel said, adding that an adverse finding against the plaintiff could result in his dismissal.

Mr Clifford said his client, who is “very much in the public eye”, is very concerned for his reputation.

He said Mr Byrne was initially told he was being suspended on full pay, but that is no longer the case.

The journalist’s claim came before Mr Justice Mark Sanfey on Tuesday, who on an ex parte basis granted Mr Byrne permission to serve short notice of the proceedings on the defendants. The judge, who acknowledged that he had only heard from one side, suggested that the two parties attempt to work out their differences outside of the court.

The case will return before the court next week.